Eight members of Atholton High School's Class of 1991 will stand before their classmates, teachers and friends tomorrow night and try to communicate something of the last four years of their lives.
Student speakers at the school's baccalaureate service will share their perspectives on the Persian Gulf war, running as a metaphor for high school and acceptance of aspects of their lives they cannot control.
Atholton, alone among the four county public high schools that have baccalaureate services, relies exclusively on students for the speeches, readings and music that make up the program.
Baccalaureate has traditionally been part of graduation exercises, although many public schools in the last 10 years have deleted much of the religious aspect of the service or made sure the program was nondenominational.
The baccalaureate service at Howard High School this year, for example, will feature a speech by the associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, but her message will not be tied to the denomination.
"It's an open message and as non-sectarian as can be," Howard High Principal Eugene L. Streagle Jr. said.
At Mount Hebron, the graduating seniors asked mathematics teacher Thomas Sankeyto speak at the baccalaureate service. Glenelg will have a speaker giving a non-denominational message.
Atholton changed to an all-student program five years ago, said business teacher Veronica "Ronnie" Bohn, a senior class sponsor who has shepherded Atholton students through baccalaureate for 16 years.
"We found that when we were trying to use a variety of religious professionals, we ended up with a hodgepodge, and the ministers felt they were serving as tokens for another faith," Bohn said.
Students tend to choose topics such as how their lives have been affected by sports, the benefits of academic work and leadership roles and what they see as the future of the class, Bohn said.
"It's a sharing with each other of their own thoughts,"she said. "Sometimes they say, 'We'll never see each other again, but here's what we'll take away.' "
Atholton High has 205 seniors graduating this year, "our smallest class ever," said Assistant Principal David Buchoff.
Next year's graduating class will be larger and enrollments are on the upswing, so school administrators are unlikelyto see a smaller class during the 1990s, he said.
The Persian Gulf war was on the minds of at least two of speakers enlisted by baccalaureate planning committee chairperson Jenn Leonard, 17, of Columbia.
The clash of views about the war was particularly sharp at Atholton, which has an Army Junior ROTC unit and a student peace organization, Atholton Students Advocating Peace.
Randy Adams, 18, of Columbia, plans to talk about how the war affected students, "how people had all of a sudden something to be intellectual about, something to believe in." He also saw the irony of fights over peace.
The students kept their clashes verbal, reported Buchoff. He said the only incidents reported were a few threats of force by students who felt that the peace activists were opposing the troops rather than the war, the destruction of one of the black flags that peace activists passed outand the ripping off of one black armband.
Randy sought a middle ground in his views. "I believe in supporting your troops, and I also believe in bringing them home soon," he said.
Randy, a trombonist,plans to enter Peabody Conservatory in September to study music. He said he accepted Jenn's invitation to be one of the speakers, because"I kind of like speaking to groups."
Kim Marks, 18, of Columbia, who is entering the U.S. Army Reserve with the promise that she will study Russian at a training facility in California, saw unity in the war. "We were all together," she said.
She said her baccalaureate speech will focus on how the students have been changed by events andhow friendships have expanded over the years. "I guess we grew. We're responsible now," she said.
Jen Hodges runs cross country and competes in the 400-meter and high jump events in track. When she thought about what to say at baccalaureate, she chose a reading from a book by George Sheehan, a physiologist, runner and free-lance writer forRunner's World magazine, on his experiences in running.
"It's a metaphor for high school," said the 18-year-old Fulton resident. " It talks about working to reach the top of the hill and about suppressing some of the pain along the way."
Jen will enter Purdue University in September to study industrial engineering. She said she didn't have anything specific in mind when Jenn asked her to take part in thebaccalaureate service, "but I thought it would be fun."
Stephen Mason, 17, of Fulton, said he "didn't want to give a generic-type speech about motivation." Instead, Stephen, who will enter the Universityof Virginia to study mechanical engineering, decided to talk about learning to accept the things we cannot control.